In the first three articles of this series, I shared how to engage corporate skeptics in coaching. In this fourth article, I examine how to approach mindfulness with hesitant executives.
“I’m the Smartest Person in the Room. Why Do I Need Mindfulness?”
Coaching executives have unique challenges, and resistance to mindfulness practices is one of them. Senior leaders tend to have knowledge and skills that are critical to the organization’s success, and they may not be skilled at mindfulness practices based in reflection and questions. When executives begin a coaching engagement, it’s important to get their brains out of the mode of providing answers and solutions and into a mode of reflection and self-awareness – and it’s not always easy.
“You Want Me to Do What?”
When I meet with executives for the first coaching session, I let them know that they will need to be reflective during our coaching sessions, to turn off all the noise and distractions of their workday, and to be ready to have new thoughts and insights. As their facial expressions shift from curiosity to puzzlement, they usually ask, “So, how do I do that?”
As coaches, we have many mindfulness practices to help our clients shift to reflections and self-awareness. Deep breathing, centering practices, and meditation are just a few of the useful and meaningful ways we help clients be more present and reflective.
I advise executives that an option is to take thirty minutes before our coaching session to meditate quietly or practice yoga. Their typical response is, “You want me to do what? No way! I’m in meetings all day. I can’t just shut everything off for thirty minutes before our coaching sessions and stretch out in the hallway to do yoga!”
Before they panic, I let them know there are many ways to be reflective and mindful during our coaching sessions. We can clear the space at the beginning of the session to set aside all the distractions that are getting in the way of the executive being more present and relaxed. We can take some deep breaths, close our eyes, and get centered. Regardless of your preferred mindfulness practice with coaching clients, consider adding a new framework to your practice.
Paying Attention to Information, Energy, and Relationships
I’m inspired by Dr. Paul Brown’s evolving framework of how the mind works, the neuroscience of mindfulness, and the physiological aspects of stillness and reflection. In the book, “Neuropsychology for Coaches,” by Paul Brown and Virginia Brown, the authors explore brain-based applications for coaches and clients.
Recently, I completed the course, “The Art and Science of Coaching: Applied Neuroscience for Coaches,” taught by Dr. Brown. In the course, he builds on Dr. Dan Siegel’s model of mindfulness and proposes that being mindful is awareness of the dynamic integration and flow of 1) information, 2) energy, and 3) relationships.
These three areas of awareness can apply to the brain, the body, the client’s coaching experience, and our experience as the coach. Recently, I’ve pondered the question, “How can coaches and our clients manage this dynamic flow and tap into it to take the coaching experience to an even deeper, more meaningful level?”
Information – Executives are bombarded with and are often the generators of enormous amounts of information. I’m asking executives in coaching sessions, “How are you managing the flow of information right now? What information can be useful to you in this moment? What signals are you getting from information that has come your way? What’s the one piece of information that gets you closer to your coaching goals?”
There are great questions for coaches to ask ourselves, too. “What information is guiding my coaching at this moment? Is there information that can help me be a better coach for this client right now? How am I managing information that comes in an out of the coaching session? What signals am I getting from the client that point us to useful, meaningful information?”
Energy – Our brains and bodies are energy producers and consumers. Getting executives to be aware of the energy they are creating or responding to can help them be more still, mindful, and reflective. I’m asking executives in coaching sessions, “What energy do you feel or sense right now? Where is that energy coming from (me, you, something between us right now, this space or environment, something outside this session)? What energies do you need to move forward in your coaching goals?”
And for coaches, we can ask, “What is my energy level right now in this session? What energies do I need to draw upon, pay attention to, or generate to coach this client today? What’s the energy between my client and me right now? Is that energy helping the client or getting in the way?”
Relationships – There are relationships between the brain, the central nervous system, our organs, and our bodies. All of these are present during a coaching experience. And there are relationships between the executive and her team, her peers, her organization, and other stakeholders. I’m asking executives, “What’s the relationship between your thinking and your actions? Which relationships are connected to your coaching goals? Which relationships need your attention right now? What do these relationships look like when your coaching goals are achieved? What’s happening between us in the coach/client relationship right now, and is that helping you?
And for coaches, we can ask, “What relationships are helping me to be a better coach for this client? Which relationships are getting in my way as a coach? What relationships do I need to create for this coaching engagement?”
Dynamic Integration and Flow – The connections and flow between information, energy and relationships combine to create mindful questions for executives and coaches. “What is the dynamic we’re experiencing between information, energy, and relationships? Are they in balance? Do they need to be in balance right now? What’s useful about the balance or imbalance? Are they in flow right now, coming together in useful ways? If not, do we need more information, energy or relationship to move forward in the coaching experience?”
The next time you coach an executive who is reluctant to consider or use mindfulness practices, ask reflective questions about information, energy, and relationships. Examine the dynamic interaction and flow between the three aspects of Brown and Siegel’s framework. And be aware that there are many ways for the science and art of coaching to connect with the brains of coaches and reluctant executives.
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Jeff Nally, PCC is an executive coach, coaching supervisor, professional speaker. and author. He is the president of Nally Group Inc., a practice focused on the science of leadership and human interaction. Jeff is vice president of marketing for the ICF Ohio Valley Chapter, is a member and volunteer with the Gay Coaches Alliance, and is co-author of two anthologies: Humans@Work and Rethinking HR. He can be reached by website.
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